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Old 12-22-2019, 05:46 PM   #1
Unfinishe
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Default This Violates Screenplay Format -- SHOWING

Normally, I wouldn't pay this much mind, but I had two readers who recently criticized me for lines that have otherwise flown under the radar. Here are a few examples (out of many) with the names and situations altered to protect the guilty.

Context: Happy-go-lucky Tim confides to Sarah that he attempted suicide.

My line for her reaction: "Sarah's stomach flips."
Criticism: I can't see a stomach flip. Describe facial expressions.

Context: John has been pining for Brooke. Talking to her on the phone, he finally gathers the courage to lay all his cards on the table. Her reply does not come immediately.

Line: "A pause that's killing him."
Criticism: What does “A pause that’s killing him” look like? Faces, dude.

Context: Nicky failed to recover a flash-drive from a VIP's penthouse. Bourne's hidden in the house.

Lines: EXT. CITY STREET
Nicky frantically punches out a text...

INT. PENTHOUSE
Off the text, Bourne zeroes in on the flash drive.

Criticism: "Off the text" implies. SHOW what we see that tells us this.


I can think of ways to improve each of these, especially the last one, so I'm grateful my attention has been drawn to them, but I think each has a visual component suited for screenwriting. Are these descriptions insufficiently concrete?
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Old 12-22-2019, 06:12 PM   #2
finalact4
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Default Re: This Violates Screenplay Format -- SHOWING

Quote:
Originally Posted by Unfinishe View Post
Normally, I wouldn't pay this much mind, but I had two readers who recently criticized me for lines that have otherwise flown under the radar. Here are a few examples (out of many) with the names and situations altered to protect the guilty.

Context: Happy-go-lucky Tim confides to Sarah that he attempted suicide.

My line for her reaction: "Sarah's stomach flips."
Criticism: I can't see a stomach flip. Describe facial expressions.
An actor can play this. That's their job. I can visualize it.
Quote:
Context: John has been pining for Brooke. Talking to her on the phone, he finally gathers the courage to lay all his cards on the table. Her reply does not come immediately.

Line: "A pause that's killing him."
Criticism: What does “A pause that’s killing him” look like? Faces, dude.

Context: Nicky failed to recover a flash-drive from a VIP's penthouse. Bourne's hidden in the house.
In this case, the context absolutely informs the character's action. Absolutely something an actor can "play."
Quote:
Lines: EXT. CITY STREET
Nicky frantically punches out a text...

INT. PENTHOUSE
Off the text, Bourne zeroes in on the flash drive.

Criticism: "Off the text" implies. SHOW what we see that tells us this.
It's clear to me. If you can say, "off his look," you can say, "off the text."

Quote:
I can think of ways to improve each of these, especially the last one, so I'm grateful my attention has been drawn to them, but I think each has a visual component suited for screenwriting. Are these descriptions insufficiently concrete?
Personally, I don't have a problem with any of these, and the comments that you CAN'T see it is ridiculous-- this is the actor's job and they CAN and WILL interpret these actions and more importantly, physicalize them. That's their job.

Sometimes you just have to KNOW that you're doing fine.

Now, if you are on page one of a screenplay and you say this...

"She opened her eyes. The blue skies and bright son reminded her of the summer of 1969," I'd be, like, dude, no ****ing way, you can't do that. It's the mind reading **** that literally CAN'T be shown that is a no, no.

Good luck, and keep up the good work.
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Old 12-22-2019, 07:14 PM   #3
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Default Re: This Violates Screenplay Format -- SHOWING

"Sarah's stomach flips."


Maybe you are getting legit criticism but for the wrong reason. I don't think the issue is whether or not an actor can play this; to me, it's just a boring read.
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Old 12-23-2019, 04:11 AM   #4
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Default Re: This Violates Screenplay Format -- SHOWING

I'm with FA4. Any actor worth their salt should take this and know what to do with it.
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Old 12-23-2019, 05:22 AM   #5
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Default Re: This Violates Screenplay Format -- SHOWING

There's nothing wrong with your examples, so I'd attribute it to the subjectivity of the reader or readers and move on. Same can be said of the poster who deems your work "a boring read" based on a couple lines from the script. Good luck.
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Old 12-23-2019, 01:30 PM   #6
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Default Re: This Violates Screenplay Format -- SHOWING

A personal quirk: I hate writing facial reactions yet it is possible many industry readers expect them. I wonder if you had left out those lines entirely if the readers would have questioned them at all.

Let's look at this one:
Context: Happy-go-lucky Tim confides to Sarah that he attempted suicide.

My line for her reaction: "Sarah's stomach flips.

Criticism: I can't see a stomach flip. Describe facial expressions.
You can imply Sarah's facial reaction with her dialogue without describing her face at all.

SARAH
You're freaking me out.

Or, use a wryly with less on-the-nose dialog:

SARAH
(Rattled, uneasy)
You want to talk about it?

Then again you may want her to deflect:

SARAH
(Rattled, uneasy)
You take your coffee black, right?

When I think I need to show a reaction in an action line I've sparingly used italicized descriptions like:

Instead of saying a character looks shocked...

WTF?! Mike storms out.

Instead of saying a character briefly winced upon hearing something...

Ouch. That hurt. Jane regains her composure.

Or, sometimes I use a prose fiction narrator technique like:

Jane isn't buying it but she smiles anyway.

Just be clear. Frankly, for me, writing 'Sarah's stomach flips,' is not clear to me. Is she shaken up by what she heard? Extremely shocked? Fearful?

I suspect the criticism you received was due to lack of clarity and not a directive to describe facial reactions a certain way.
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Old 12-23-2019, 02:17 PM   #7
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Default Re: This Violates Screenplay Format -- SHOWING

Something to remember... your face isn't the only part of your body that can express a reaction to a stimuli, physical pain, psychological pain, or even fear.

A person's entire body is a tool.

I have a series of really great books based on the idea of a thesaurus, which illustrates all the various ways a person expresses not only a specific emotional state, but also the psychological behaviors human beings use to respond to threats and crisis.

They are fantastic for creating characters with a lot of depth, can help a writer make certain their characters behave consistently to their character flaws and weaknesses, their emotional state and motives. Motivation very powerful.

https://writershelpingwriters.net/th...s-collections/

The Urban Setting Thesaurus
The Positive Trait Thesaurus
The Negative Trait Thesaurus
The Emotion Thesaurus
The Emotional Wound Thesaurus

These books are very easy to use. I use them for every character. If will tell you what is good about a specific negative trait and what is bad (taken to the extreme). They will tell you where the trait may originate from in a person, the psychology behind it, the behaviors that arise, how the trait is expressed through physicalizing, what motives the person and what kind of character would contrast with them. The latter is especially good because it helps a writer create tension and build conflict between characters with opposing of different views.

Personally, I love them. I write asides and nonverbal expressions for characters that an actor can physicalize, but there are some people/readers that simply cannot form great visualization. Context will play a big part as well.

FA4
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Last edited by finalact4 : 12-23-2019 at 09:09 PM.
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Old 12-23-2019, 02:45 PM   #8
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Default Re: This Violates Screenplay Format -- SHOWING

FA4: Wow. That's some collection of ... what's the plural of Thesaurus?

I'm a longtime people watcher and eavesdropper. I usually wear sunglasses to be less obvious. Though these days the practice isn't as fruitful with most folks keeping their eyes glued to their cellphones and texting.

I tend to use the traits, verbal/facial expressions and tics of people I know or knew in the past.

Still, that link you shared is a good resource to help stimulate ideas. Thanks.
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Old 12-23-2019, 03:48 PM   #9
Unfinishe
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Default Re: This Violates Screenplay Format -- SHOWING

Thanks for everyone's input. And thanks for the resources!

As F4A mentioned earlier, context is critical. In retrospect maybe these little snippets are more like the "sip tests" of the 80s cola wars. If we're given just a taste then some might play better than others because they're initially more striking.

I agree that a line like "stomach flips" is not entirely clear. There's going to be more daylight between what I might imagine versus what a reader might imagine than if I were to describe a specific facial expression. However, in fairness, the manner in which Sarah takes on this suicide admission will also be informed by the previous thirty pages, where we learned she's racked with feelings of guilt and self-loathing, due in large in part to fact she's working undercover for the government to prosecute and imprison Tim and his friends. She's already playing a role, so her reaction is somewhat uncertain and bottled. Moreover, Tim's admission is not a teary-eyed outpouring; there's intimacy, but he presents it as something from his past that he's put well behind him. As soon as Tim and Sarah are apart, she releases her pent up energy in a manner that's much less subtle.

The first time we meet a character, maybe we need to describe his line delivery as "fatally sarcastic." By p. 85, we get the idea. Granted, maybe on p. 33, "stomach flips" does not give the reader enough (or it's too boring, or whatever), but it's something I thought people would have little trouble seeing.
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Old 12-23-2019, 07:59 PM   #10
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Default Re: This Violates Screenplay Format -- SHOWING

Quote:
Originally Posted by sc111 View Post
FA4: Wow. That's some collection of ... what's the plural of Thesaurus?
Thesauri.
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